The parent company of Mesabi Academy, a 123-bed juvenile treatment facility on the Iron Range, said today it was closing the facility by the end of June.
Mesabi Academy's parent, the Pennsylvania nonprofit KidsPeace, said in a press release, "This has been a very difficult decision, because we know the allegations made or insinuated through the media reports are not true."
The facility employs 138 people, whom the company said had been notified of the closing.
Shari Swanson, the mayor of Buhl, said the city of 1,000 would be losing its largest employer.
"I'm really shocked that just a few hit pieces from you people could cause so much damage to their facility, when they've been doing what I've understood through the years to be a pretty good job," Swanson told APM Reports this afternoon.
APM Reports found that the facility had far more complaints filed against it with the corrections department than other corrections-licensed facilities and that in at least several cases, it had not reported to authorities allegations of sexual abuse that it learned of.
Reaction to the APM Reports stories was swift. St. Louis County authorities reopened an investigation into an allegation of sex abuse. Ramsey County removed more than 20 boys from the facility and, after interviewing them, referred two more allegations of maltreatment that St. Louis County is investigating.
Ramsey County Deputy Manager Meghan Mohs declined earlier this week to provide specifics about those two cases, but she dismissed criticism that the decision to remove kids was an overreaction.
"In this instance, we certainly felt that the health and safety concerns that we were seeing were significant enough that it was in the best interests of our kids to move them so that doesn't to me equate to a knee-jerk reaction."
Hennepin County also pulled about 20 boys from Mesabi Academy. It also referred to St. Louis County investigators allegations "that called into question their physical and-or emotional safety," a spokeswoman said in an email.
In all, St. Louis County is investigating at least four allegations of maltreatment. The state Department of Human Resources is overseeing those investigations.
In addition, the state Department of Corrections froze new admissions until further investigations were complete.
Those actions left a facility that housed 83 boys three weeks ago with only about 34 residents.
Boys are placed at the facility in a number of ways — juvenile delinquents are sent by courts, county social services agencies send youth who need protection and parents or guardians put aggressive or mentally disabled children there who they cannot control.
KidsPeace said it would work with agencies to send those youth back to them for further handling by June 30.
"The hard truth is, given the reductions in placements from Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the subsequent freeze on new admissions, Mesabi Academy simply cannot continue to provide the level of care the youth currently placed there need going forward. As a result, we believe the appropriate action is to transition those kids back to their placing agency as smoothly as possible and close the program," KidsPeace said.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy said the department would have employees at Mesabi Academy "to ensure that the needs and care of youth in placement are being met. Mesabi Academy KidsPeace officials and staff continue to cooperate fully with DOC staff to ensure a safe and orderly transition of the youth in their care."
A spokeswoman for Hennepin County said, "This is a set of unfortunate circumstances. However, Hennepin County had to make decisions based on the best interest of the kids we serve."
The St. Louis County attorney's office also called the move unfortunate, "given the need for the services."
But it said, "The work goes on. This would include following up on any previously reported incidents or new allegations that come to our attention. We have and will continue to do our job. When maltreatment is reported, county staff screens for assessment, and will investigate if warranted."
Other states used Mesabi Academy as well, although not as much as they used to. Mandy Nielsen, spokesperson for the South Dakota Department of Corrections, said closing would be a significant loss.
"Mesabi Academy has been a valuable partner, an effective provider for adjudicated youth with complex behavioral challenges," she said.
One parent who complained to APM Reports about her son's treatment at Mesabi Academy said she was shocked. Lisa Torblaa placed her son, Jacob, at the facility in 2014. He has schizophrenia and was acting out physically and sexually.
"I'm just really glad that these kids have gotten pulled and are put somewhere safely ...."
Torblaa had complained about the treatment of her son to staff, county officials and the St. Louis County sheriff. An investigation into alleged abuse was closed due to insufficient evidence. She said she's going to tell her son about the company's decision.
"I'm going to tell him that I'm proud of him. This was his story. This was something that he has done for the kids as well."
APM Reports investigation and response
May 2, 2016. APM Reports publishes story that says Mesabi Academy had not informed authorities about sex abuse allegations it learned of.
May 2, 2016. St. Louis County immediately reopens an investigation it had closed earlier.
May 5, 2016. Ramsey County says it is freezing at least some placements at the facility.
May 6, 2016. APM Reports publishes a story detailing claims of maltreatment at Mesabi Academy.
May 6, 2016. Hennepin County responds by removing 20 boys from the facility.
May 9, 2016. Ramsey County removes 21 boys from Mesabi Academy.
May 10, 2016. Minnesota's Department of Human Services removes five boys under its jurisdiction.
May 11, 2016. Iron Range lawmaker says counties are overreacting.
May 12, 2016. Department of Corrections says Mesabi Academy has agreed to freeze admissions.
May 19, 2016. Mesabi Academy's parent company announces plans to close the facility.